1. Why is the European Parliament important to people in Finland?
The Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force in 2009, gave the European Parliament considerably greater powers. Accordingly, Parliament’s importance has also greatly increased. Ultimately, Parliament decides on virtually all legislative issues that affect people’s lives in Finland, as elsewhere in the EU. It is therefore worthwhile for people in Finland to take an interest in how we are represented in the European Parliament.
The European Parliament is the institution that represents citizens most directly in the EU. Participation in European cooperation is the best way of influencing developments, both in Finland and worldwide. The problems that exist today are so great that no State could solve them by itself. The European Parliament gives voters a voice on these issues. The basis for its work is the maintenance of peace and stability in Europe.
2. How can an individual MEP exert influence when there are more than 700 others?
By working effectively, an individual MEP can influence legislation that will bind the whole European Union, and – particularly in certain situations where matters have to be debated – can exert greater influence even than an individual minister of a single Member State. The way to exert influence within Parliament is often to a large extent by building successful personal relationships and networks.
Much of an MEP’s work takes place in the committees that consider legislative proposals. Each committee has roughly between 25 and 70 members, so that a Member who so wishes is bound to find opportunities to make his or her mark, no matter which Member State he or she comes from. In order to be entrusted with a position of responsibility, it is necessary not only to be active but also to work seriously on a dossier. It also does not come amiss if an MEP is a good speaker. And in more languages than just Finnish.
3. What have I achieved in the European Parliament?
I have become well-known within Parliament and within its largest political group, the European People’s Party or EPP (also known as the PPE). In order to do so, I needed to work tirelessly at networking and to take part creditably in innumerable negotiating tasks. I believe that I have done my bit to help create a better future for Finland and Europe.
2014-2018 parliamentary term: defending Finland’s taxpayers and small and medium-sized businesses, and improving Europe’s border controls
At the beginning of this parliamentary term, I was elected as First Vice-chair of the Committee on Budgets and as the PPE Group’s spokesperson in the Committee on Budgetary Control. I am also a substitute member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.
During this period I have been Parliament’s lead negotiator for 42 reports. The most important of these included legislation on the principle of the rule of law in EU Member States, and as lead negotiator I obtained a total of more than EUR 14 million for Finland, to help find new jobs for workers made redundant for example by Nokia and Microsoft.
In addition, I led the negotiations between the Member States, Parliament and the Commission on the next programme period of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). The fund helps to keep the wheels of the European economy turning by encouraging individual investors to put money into worthwhile projects by guaranteeing loans. So far, it has mobilised well over EUR 335 billion in investment in Europe, which would not have been made without the guarantees.
In the Committee on Budgets and the Committee on Budgetary Control, I worked for a long time to make the EU budget effective, efficient and influential, so that taxpayers in Finland and Europe could derive the greatest possible benefit from it. In practice, that meant negotiations on the EU’s annual budget that went on into the night, but also helping to take decisions on the longer-term framework and, in particular, critical scrutiny of the results achieved using EU funding.
In the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, I was active in bringing about the rapid reinforcement of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex during the refugee crisis of 2015. As part of Parliament’s negotiating team, I advocated that the security requirements applicable to the documents carried by people entering the Schengen area should be stepped up. These are important steps towards strengthening European border controls, resolving the situation with regard to immigration, and improving the EU’s internal security.
I am also a member of Parliament’s delegation for relations with the USA and a substitute member of the delegation for relations with Russia. During the negotiations on the budget in the autumn of 2017 and 2018, I secured acceptance of proposals to combat Russian propaganda.
The 2012-2014 period – part of a parliamentary term: agricultural subsidies, semi-trailers and motor cycles
During my first term of office, I was a member of the Committee on Transport and Tourism and a substitute member of the Committee on Agriculture. During that time I produced 33 reports. Even though I had entered Parliament in mid-term, during that first period I served in the influential role of rapporteur on more reports than Members normally do during an entire parliamentary term. I did this in barely half a term, because I entered Parliament as a replacement for another Member only in March 2012.
As a member of the Committee on Transport, I was part of Parliament’s negotiating team when we decided on the EU’s new legislation on inspections. As a member of the negotiating team, I played a large part in persuading Parliament to abandon its demand that inspections of all motor cycles should be compulsory. This was a very welcome decision for motor cyclists in Finland. In our conditions, compulsory inspections would not have served any purpose.
In addition to this, I was my political group’s chief negotiator on the report on semi-trailers. One result achieved by Parliament was that Finland’s export industry will be able to continue to transport our goods into mainland Europe by road too.
In the autumn of 2013, I secured acceptance of a proposal to allow national agricultural support for Southern Finland to continue for seven years longer. I did this first in Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and then in plenary. This largely solved a problem which had troubled Finland for years
4. More European Union or less? What direction do you think that the EU should be moving in?
More. There will never be a United States of Europe: that is guaranteed by the patchwork of European languages and cultures. However, there are many areas where closer cooperation would be the best option. It makes sense to increase cooperation and promote integration particularly with regard to such big issues as defence policy, security, immigration and combating climate change. No country can tackle them on its own or even protect its people against the worst consequences. More can be achieved by means of cooperation, which benefits everyone in Europe.
If some time in the future the EU were to develop into such a close political alliance that its people were prepared to entrust management of its economy, defence and external relations to a common government, Europe would be in a better position to tackle the challenges of an ageing population, division and global competition. Such an alliance of states would not damage the national identity of the citizens of any Member State. Finland is part of this Europe – and Europe is part of a larger whole.
5. Should Finland join NATO?
Yes, Finland should belong to all democratic international organisations where decisions which affect us are taken. The EU does not provide military protection, despite the existing security clause and growing defence cooperation. Maintaining a credible independent defence posture is very expensive in the long term. NATO is like fire insurance: you take it out when your house is not yet on fire.
6.What does closer defence cooperation mean for Finland?
The development of the EU’s common security policy is to Finland’s advantage. We do not derive security guarantees from the EU comparable to those on offer from NATO, but it is better than nothing. From the point of view of Finland’s security, it is vital to commit ourselves both to European and to transatlantic multilateral cooperation. On no account must we be left behind as things develop.
The EU has the second largest defence budget in the world, if all the national defence budgets are added together. However, Europe cannot be the second strongest military power in the world. Much money is spent on superficial things, in addition to which structures and matériel are not always compatible. Attempts are now being made to do something about this by those Member States that are willing to pursue such a course, by means of so-called Permanent Structured Cooperation.
7. The significance of small and medium-sized enterprises for the economy?
Without small businesses, there would be no Finland. Small and medium-sized enterprises are also the driving force behind Europe’s economy. Well over 90% of businesses in the EU fall into this category. In the past five years, 85% of new jobs have been created by them. They employ two thirds of private-sector employees. Accordingly, small and medium-sized enterprises must be able to operate in Europe in future too, and to exploit the opportunities presented by the internal market. This can be ensured by reducing regulation which burdens small and medium-sized enterprises and by lowering the bar to enterprise.
In the annual negotiations on the EU budget between Parliament and the Member States, I strongly advocate a programme of funding which will promote the competitiveness of businesses and the position of small and medium-sized enterprises. In my view, it is responsible, for example, to promote the internationalisation of small and medium-sized enterprises and to make it easier to secure funding from the market.
In addition, in 2017 I led the negotiations between the Member States, Parliament and the Commission on the next programme period of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). The way in which EFSI operates has been overhauled, largely at Parliament’s instigation, and changes have been made to it which will make it easier to grant funding, in particular, to small and medium-sized enterprises.
8. Why does food production present Finland with a major opportunity?
When I took office as an MEP, in 2012, I said that I wanted to be Finland’s food MEP. In practice, I have worked to achieve that by involving myself in a number of important legislative issues, with the aim of preserving and improving the opportunities available to Finland’s food producers. In Parliament I have tried, in particular, to ensure that the work done by Finland’s arable farmers is viable, that they are motivated and, in general, that they can get by. Audits of the EU’s common agricultural policy are also relevant here, and I was able to secure the support of a large majority in Parliament for rationalising and reducing the number of audits as long ago as autumn 2015.
I seek to draw attention to matters that affect the whole food production and distribution chain. In particular, the position of producers in that chain needs to be strengthened. We in Finland have much unexploited potential to publicise Finnish cuisine better throughout Europe. If we succeed, we shall be able to increase our food exports many times over.
9. What is the significance of the wellbeing of children and young people?
Children and young people are our most important resource and our only real investment in the future. One of the criteria for how civilised the EU and its Member States are is how they treat the youngest members of society. However, where young people are becoming marginalised, the most important thing is to bring them back into the heart of things. They must be persuaded to believe in themselves and their potential. The EU has a vital role to play in this. The most important task of the EU’s policy to generate growth and employment is to rescue a whole generation. Without that, we are all lost.
A bridge needs to be built between support for education and wellbeing. In my view, Erasmus, the EU’s educational exchange programme, is a good tool, and I am fully in favour of doubling it in the EU’s next longer-term budget.
10. What is your view of Finland’s membership of the EU? And of the euro?
Finland has benefited greatly from its membership of the EU. Membership of the EU has made the Finnish economy stable, facilitated travel, increased educational exchanges, reduced restrictions of competition and strengthened Finland’s position with regard to security policy. EU membership has been good for Finland.
It is important to remember that, at the most fundamental level, the EU is a peace project. Finland is a small country and is dependent on the development of the rest of the world. As a member of the EU, we have greater influence over our own future. The common currency, the euro, has also indisputably benefited Finland more than it has harmed it. The euro area must be developed, and things are now moving in the right direction.
Strengthening the EU also increases the opportunities for the Finns to influence their own lives. We are such a small nation that it is difficult to make our voice heard. We can do so better in the EU than elsewhere. The fact is that the EU is not perfect, and needs to be reformed. But we should not become mere bystanders. Everyone in Europe influences the direction of change, and that includes the Finns.
11. How will Brexit change the EU? How will it affect Finland?
Brexit is bad for everyone. However, I do not believe that it will be reversed, even though many people in Britain regard it as a mistake. The Brexit negotiations have demonstrated that the British are unprepared for life outside the EU and have no proper plan. Leaving the internal market will surely hit the country hard.
To Finland, the British have been important partners on many issues, including in negotiations within the EU. Because of Brexit, relations will inevitably become more distant in many sectors. Brexit will be difficult for the whole of the EU, both mentally and economically. The British are historically and geographically part of Europe. Moreover, Britain contributes a lot to the EU budget. Difficult changes are coming, therefore, but they were sorely needed even without Brexit. On the other hand, the British have often been reluctant to promote EU integration. It is to be hoped that this will now become easier.
12. Can the EU keep control over its external borders and illegal immigration?
Illegal immigration needs to be eradicated. It is not acceptable for people to enter the EU or stay there without the appropriate permit. European cooperation in this field is constantly being stepped up. Viewed realistically, the number of people who want to come to Europe will not fall. The whole EU needs to take responsibility for the external borders, in addition to which the repatriation of migrants who have had their applications turned down should be carried out more effectively. At the same time, however, it is necessary to comply with international obligations and to properly integrate those who have received favourable decisions.
The most important thing is to invest in solving the problems which cause refugees to leave, particularly in Africa. Peace must be supported, jobs created and structures strengthened there. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that legal immigration is also needed in order to cater for the dependency ratio in an aging society, and in order to improve competitiveness both in Finland and in Europe.
13. What does the EU budget get spent on? What should it be used for?
At present, the bulk of the EU budget is spent on cohesion policy and agriculture. The EU has a strong mandate to take action on agriculture and regional cohesion, and that is also reflected in the budget. But we must have the courage to bring even these sectors into the current decade. On the other hand, the EU has been assigned new tasks, particularly with regard to immigration, security and defence. It is clear that new resources are also needed in order to carry them out.
The way in which the EU uses funds could be made more efficient. It cannot be denied. It makes sense to spend the EU budget on those tasks that can be performed better together than at national level. We cannot expect the EU to be capable of action unless it has adequate resources. At the same time, better value for money must be obtained. But the revenue side also needs to be reformed. Membership contributions should not be the only substantial source of revenue. The EU should be able to invest more in education, for example.
14. What about common European values?
Shared, common values are the foundation of the EU. Democracy, the principle of the rule of law, and the basic rights of citizens must be preserved. These are basic pillars on which people’s trust is founded, without which the EU simply would not work.
Violating common values damages us all, and those who are guilty of doing so should face serious consequences. The way things are going in Poland and Hungary, in particular, is cause for concern. We need to keep a cool head, but at the same time to act swiftly. Personally, I am ready to freeze the disbursement of EU funding in those countries which do not recognise common values and act in accordance with them.